You Lack One Thing
You lack one thing. Sometimes it is difficult to be in ministry. Sometimes it tugs at your heart strings and today, Jesus’ heart strings are just a strummin’. Jesus loved him. Three little words that were important enough for the author of Mark’s gospel to include them.
Be reminded that Mark’s gospel is the first and most concise gospel written. Mark has none of Luke’s flare for poetry; with his angels heralding, and heavenly hosts proclaiming. Mark reminds me of Sergeant Joe Friday on the old Dragnet T.V. show: “All we want are the facts ma’am, just the facts.” That is Mark.
So when Mark wastes a breath to say “Jesus loved him”, he’s trying to tell us something. Nowhere else in his gospel does Mark use the word love. He’s trying to tell us that sometimes ministry is hard even for Jesus.
A young inquirer approaches him wanting to know what he has to do to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus likes this young man. And why not? He’s a really good man. He has never murdered anyone, or committed adultery, has never stolen, or born false witness against anyone, and, in spite of his wealth, he has never defrauded anyone, and always honours his father and mother. This is a guy with morals and ethics, a man with a conscience.
During their exchange, Jesus comes to love him. So how hard is it for Jesus to confront him with the truth? It would have been easier for Jesus to say, “Keep up the good work” and let the rest of it slide. Yet, how do you enter into a real relationship with someone without honesty being at the heart of it?
I can see tears welling up in Jesus’ eyes as he looks with great affection upon this young man, this good man, this winner, this valedictorian of his class, this guy who lettered in four sports, this guy who becomes a successful and honest businessman, and has to say to him, “There is one thing you lack.”
What? Are you kidding me Jesus? What could this young man possibly lack, we who would be envious of his life? Jesus then drops the hammer. “If you want to inherit the kingdom of heaven, then you must go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor.” How did Jesus stand it, the look of disbelief and then defeatism on this young man’s face? Jesus was probably the first person in his life to tell him that he didn’t quite measure up. Notice Jesus’ wording here. Not, ‘go and sell everything you possess’ but ‘go and sell everything you have—everything.’ Sell everything and sell all those trophies in your trophy room, and sell everything that says you’re successful and smart, sell the degrees hanging on the wall, the suits in your closet, the cars in the garage, your house on Park Avenue, everything that identifies you as a winner in this game of life. Sell it all. Then put on this ratty robe and these second-hand sandals and come and follow me. The young man can’t bring himself to do it. He hangs his head and, for the first time in his life, he shuffles away feeling defeated and a tear runs down Jesus’ face.
This apparently was the man’s only shortcoming. Jesus asks him to come and follow, an act which asks for an attentiveness towards another, a request that asks you to look beyond yourself; a request which insists that the answer to what your truest treasure is, is not the pearls you purchase for yourself or the trophies in your room, but how your prosperity propels you to notice the people in your midst, the people in need.
The young man reveres his riches, both fame and material, over relationships. He has been so busy competing and climbing to the top, all with good sportsmanship, that he has inadvertently reject community. The danger of wealth is its lure towards a belief in utter self-sufficiency. Isn’t that what we honour, the self-made man? The strong, the independent, the man who pulled himself up by his own boot straps?
Yet, it is exactly this kind of man who turns away from Jesus. What Mark is trying to say, in a rather stark and pointed way, is that wealth, without connection to those around you, will pull you away from relationships, especially a relationship with Jesus.
Jesus weeps. Jesus doesn’t want this young man to go, but he has to be honest with him. The kingdom this young man is seeking is like none this world has ever known. The kingdom of this young man’s life uses wealth for the advancement of the self. The kingdoms of his world protect those who are already wealthy. The kingdoms of his world defend the loyal, prop up the powerful.
Jesus is inviting him into a world where wealth without loving exposes a lack of empathy; wealth without risk of answering an invitation to join something outside of yourself, to follow a path unknown, not planned out, results in fear. Jesus asks the young man to enter into a relationship with the poor among him, people he has worked so hard not to be like. The young man rejects this vision of God’s kingdom. He rejects Jesus.
It was the only time I had ever seen this man cry. A strong, self- made man; high achiever; valedictorian of his high school class; lettered in 4 sports; attended university at 16 and graduated top of his class; became a successful business man. He was known as tough but always fair; a man who would seal multi-million dollar deals with a strong hand shake and a straight look into the eye; a man you knew would keep his word. His honour was his bond.
It was a Sunday night, the end of a men’s retreat weekend. This weekend had proved itself to be an experience of abundance. There had been much hymn singing rich with the voices of over a hundred men. There had been an invitation to partake in the traditional cup and bun, twice they extended the right hand of fellowship. One left filled, not just because the buns were delicious, but because one had felt so clearly the abundance of God’s grace. In that safe, sacred space, this strong man told his story of how, upon the death of his father, one of his business associates said to him, “Did you not know that you were your father’s golden boy? Didn’t he ever tell you?” He never had.
So this pillar of a man had spent his whole life trying to win his father’s approval. That is why he worked so hard and competed so fiercely. Everything he had done was for one simple quest, to hear his father call him his ‘golden boy.’ In the end, he heard it from an outsider. The community of believers gathered around him. They then sang a hymn to him in the Moravian tradition.
With your presence, Lord, our Head and Saviour,
Bless him now, we humbly pray;
Our dear heavenly Father’s love and favour
Be his comfort every day.
May God’s Spirit now in each proceeding
Favour him with God’s most gracious leading
Thus shall he be truly blessed
Both in labour and in rest.
The healing was almost audible. A hundred men singing for the sake of one. Wealth without connection leads to fear. Seems to be a lot of fear out there these days. The stock markets are certainly indicating so. Maybe then, now more than ever, we need to hear Mark’s poignant message that what the world needs now is not just love sweet love, but a love which leads to a life outside ourselves.